Local Spring Flora

Hello all!

Yesterday I took my neighbour’s dog for a walk, as they have gone away for a couple of days. A few steps past my driveway I started to notice that a huge array of native flora is out and blooming. And some non-natives, too. :)

Here’s a glimpse at what my neighbourhood is looking like this week:

Tea towel curtains

New kitchen curtains — no sewing required!

Yeah, I know — sometimes I surprise even myself! Who knew that when I woke up this morning intending to put together some new kitchen curtains, that I wouldn’t need to even get out a pair of scissors? And yet … that’s just what I did. :D

Because I feel like doing everything upside down tonight, let me jump straight to the before / after:

Noink!

Our kitchen is quite a dark space, which we’ve been attempting to lighten up with a bit of paint, and by removing a large overhanging cabinet from above the stove. I’ve always wanted to do away with these old wooden blinds, though, and their time had come.

Frayed pull-cord.

This frayed pull-cord was the final straw.

These blinds were pretty rough when we moved in, with the varnish worn away and a few chips here and there. But the fraying of the pull-cord meant that the blind couldn’t be closed or opened any more. Time to get them down and do something, *anything*, instead!

I purchased some curtain rails and fixings from Ikea, which I only mention because I have now entered the ranks of the Ikea Hacker. (Drumroll, please!)

In order to mount the brackets into our odd sink window space I needed to rotate the hook part 90 degrees. This is not at all the intended purpose of these mountings, so they didn’t want to stay put with just the screw provided. I slipped a bit of non-stick rug underlay (“Stopp”, it’s called) in between to stop the hook from wiggling in place. Worked a treat!

Curtain mounting pieces, hacked.

Rotating the hook allows me to get the rail along the front.

I was able to put one of the mounting screws into the hole left by the previous hardware, so I didn’t even need to get my drill out. Nice! (Oh, and check out what I found when I removed the old hardware! That’s a Phillip’s head screwdriver poking into that gap!)

Crack in our wood work.

Bit of a crack!

By the way, here’s a neat tip for when you are working above a sink: cover each drain hole so that if you happen to drop a screw, it doesn’t disappear down the gurgler!

Plugs in drain holes.

Cover the drains to avoid sadness. :)

Once I had the brackets in place I decided to test fit a simple curtain to make sure I had the height / depth correct. Enter the budget white sheet:

I folded a single bed sheet so that it would drape the height of the window when clipped up by those cute little alligator clips. Then I clipped the fold every ten cm or so, and slipped the rings onto the rail. This method of hanging the curtain was everything I hoped it would be: easy to put up and take down for cleaning! And no chance of the hooks slipping off the rings, which is something that happens elsewhere in the house, and which I hate!

But the result was kind of “meh”. It was okay, and I felt it did the job, but it just didn’t feel right.

I wondered whether making the curtain shorter would help?

Half-height curtain

Curtain from a bed sheet

So much better! To do this version I simply folded the lower section of the curtain up and caught it into the existing clips. To “replicate this look” (haha) all you need to do is fold a single bed sheet into thirds (roughly) and clip it up onto a curtain rod. Easy, huh?

The height might need a bit of adjusting, but it was immediately obvious that this made my window area more functional (I can still use the sill, for example). I decided that this arrangement would be great for Springtime / Summer, because we don’t need the warmth from a full curtain, but we do need to cut the harsh Australian sun that comes in during the morning.

I figure that I will swap this curtain out for a “Window Quilt” come next winter. Plenty of time to plan for that, right? I’ll start next Autumn. :-P

Next I went looking for the other sheet in my cheap sheet set. I’ve been using these sheets as a seasonal tablecloth (to disguise the green ping pong tables I use when we have guests at Christmas). So I chose really, really cheap sheets, intended for getting red wines stains, and only slightly better than a truly disposable plastic sheet. If I put these on a bed, I think an elbow would make a hole in the first twenty seconds!

Uh oh, where the heck is that sheet? I looked everywhere I thought it could be, but alas: Earwax.

Having pulled down the old blind, it was time to get creative:

I’ve had my eye on these flour sacks for ages — they are the packaging left over from the bulk flour I buy. They are so useful! I had to empty out my potato bag and my felt craft scraps to get enough bags to string across the window, and boy, do they need a wash.

Again — this seemed okay. It had promise — maybe if I unpicked the sides of the sacks and sewed them up properly, giving myself extra length in the process? I did a bunch of surfing on Pinterest (because that’s how I roll ;-) ) and figured I would just have to try it and see.

And then, brainwave! What about the wonderful tea towels I received last Christmas, with the vintage Australian brands? Awesome!

They match my vintage Australian brand red tin I have sitting on the counter. They are white (not cream — I really, really don’t like cream) and match the colours in the kitchen that I want (red / white / dark grey, with splashes of other colours). They even match the length of the other curtain quite nicely.

Win!

View from down low, showing light coming through the tea towels.

View from down low, showing the light coming through the tea towels and glass bowls.

So up they went, with a couple of tea towels designed for Rowany Festival by one of my good friends, Lou. I’m going to have to convince her to do next year’s tea towel in red, white and charcoal so I can replace the white sheet on the other side with another set of towels!

The last towel on the end is actually wet from the washing machine because I use these towels in my normal rotation. What’s the point of having tea towels that are purely “for keeps”? :) I figured it would dry just as well up there in the Spring breeze as out on the clothesline. I still have plenty of other tea towels left for regular use.

Have you noticed how much mess there isn’t in all these photos? Nothing like a good spring clean to keep the counter tidy (for today, anyway!)

Kitchen curtains wide view

Awww, this gladdens my heart.

So what do you think? The tea towels have been growing on me all afternoon. This kitchen is starting to make me happy. :)

Handwoven tea towels

Big reveal: woven tea towels!

I’m excited to finally be able to reveal what I’ve been working away on over the last few months: a set of woven tea towels for my Mum’s birthday!

These turned out so well. :) Not much like the original sample concept I tried back in January … but since then I managed to borrow a table top 4-shaft loom which made these little beauties possible.

Four shaft loom on my craft table

A four shaft loom, threaded with a white cottolin warp.

I wound the warp in plain white cottolin (a blend of linen and cotton):

Winding the warp using a warping board

Winding the warp on a table, using a warping board.

These long threads go onto the loom, winding onto the back beam:

Winding onto the back beam

Winding the warp onto the back beam, using a raddle to spread the threads at the correct width

I made the raddle myself out of a bit of spare timber, and some nails. It’s a bit shonky, but it did the trick!

Once the warp is wound on, each of those threads needs to be individually threaded through the heddles (the white vertical strings). When I pull the levers, different sets of heddles go up, making different patterns on the surface of the cloth.

Weaving the header

Starting to weave a header, using wool to spread to the warp threads evenly

Once the heddles are done, it’s time to sley the reed (cue husband giggling insanely — he think all these weaving terms are just made up!). That means pulling each thread through the metal slots, and tying up in groups to the front beam. In the photo above, I’ve started to weave using a bit of spare wool, and you can see that the first threads are starting to spread out evenly across the width of the cloth.

As for the tea towels themselves, first I wove a sample in green, cut it off the loom and wet finished it:

This worked really well, so I then moved on to the colours I wanted for my Mum. Each of the patterns is based on a “Birds Eye” threading, which is a type of twill. It’s easy to make a lot of different diagonal and diamond shapes by varying which of the four shafts I lift up every time I pass the weft thread.

I wet finished these in the washing machine so that the threads would shrink together and lock into place. Then I rolled them with a rolling pin (yes, really!) to soften the fibres and give them a bit of shine.

Mangling the towel with a rolling pin.

Mangling the towel with a rolling pin is supposed to soften the fibres and give shine.

I found that with each of my tea towels I had to cut them off the loom and adjust the tension of the warp before weaving the next towel. Here is an example of where the tension started to get a little uneven across the width of the towel:

Uneven tension in the warp threads

Evidence of uneven tension in the warp threads?

See how the thicker pattern section looks a little puckered? It flattened out after shrinking down, but I think that meant I didn’t get the warp evenly tensioned when I wound it onto the back beam.

The last tea towel I felt much more in my comfort zone, so I tried out an unbalanced twill pattern or two:

Striped coloured towel with twill patterns

Each stripe is a different twill pattern and colour combination, separated by white plain weave.

Two of the pattern strips look different on the front to how they look on the back. Can you spot them? Clue: they are blue!

I really love how these turned out. They feel lovely in the hand (although my Mum is going to frame them!). I wonder what I shall do with the leftover bit of warp? For now the loom is idle, as I look after sick kiddies and catch up on some work.

I knew I would enjoy weaving: and I’m hooked!

Spring Garden Gallery

Spring is here! The garden is starting to wake up. :)

Prepped bed

Digging in the green manure

“Digging in the green manure” is not nearly as gross as it sounds. For one thing, there’s no poop involved!

On Fathers’ Day we came home from ten pin bowling to discover a brief moment of sunshine, and two sleeping children in the back of the car. Hello, opportunity!

So, I took half a moment to snap this photo:

Fallow garden bed

Fallow bed, before we started work

… and then it was straight into some impromptu gardening.

This bed (if you’ve been following along) has been growing nothing much at all over the winter. It started out with self-sown broccoli plants, but our visiting bunny rabbit ate most of them up (we pulled the plants for him, it wasn’t like a Killer Rabbit moment). The chickens finished off what was left, well before the end of winter, sadly.

Planting new crops mid-winter is a bit of a dud job, so it was just left fallow until last Sunday. We yanked out a tall, seeding, broccoli plant (too woody to work well as green manure) and then went to work chopping those weeds into the garden bed.

Stephen working the soil with a garden fork

Stephen is using a garden fork to loosen the soil

Stephen started off with the garden fork, getting some air in around the established roots. As soon as that picture was taken, I ducked back into the garage for the shears and hacked up the top leafy material into smaller chunks.

Then I took the garden spade and chopped into the ground, slicing up what was left and pushing the green material into the dirt. Note that we moved aside our irrigation pipes BEFORE attempting this! :)

Me, using the spade to chop up weeds

Me, throwing the spade into the soil to chop up the weeds

 (Usually I would be wearing a hat, but this bit of sunshine was a rather miraculous break in the awful wet weather we’ve been having, so I didn’t have it in the car with me. I am, however, demonstrating how to do yard work in a medieval kirtle. Just because.)

Once this was finished, a quick level with a small garden hoe and the soil was looking pretty darn good:

Weeds chopped in

Weeds chopped in, soil looking rich and dark.

All this chopping and churning means that the worms and garden micro-organisms will be able to digest up the goodness from the dead weeds much more quickly, turning it into good fertile soil with lots of broken down organic matter. This means we won’t need to use as much added fertiliser (such as animal manure) before planting our next crop. This bed will be growing tomatoes in the Summer — a pretty hungry crop — so we will be adding some cow manure before planting. It turns out we’ve run out just at the moment, though!

Never mind, we’ve covered up the soil with a cardboard box and some mulch until I can run out to the store for some more. That will keep the moisture and goodness in, and slow down germinating weeds. We will let this bed rest with a good layer of mulch for about a month, before the tomato seedlings (yet to germinate in the greenhouse) are ready to go in. This will allow the green manure time to break down, releasing the useful nutrients just in time for our hungry crop!

In the meantime, Spring is making an appearance in the garden:

I hope you are enjoying the turn of the seasons, wherever you may live!

Kitchen fork

Weeds get forked

The other day we experienced a respite from the endless rain, at which point I noticed our garlic patch had become rather overgrown with weeds:

Weeds in the garlic patch

Lots of weeds in that there garden bed!

Garlic (and other alliums) don’t really like having competition, so I decided to take advantage of the brief sunshine and nip those weeds out. Usually when I do this task, I just get in with my hands, but I felt a bit dainty that day and took a fork with me:

Old kitchen fork used for weeding

This old kitchen fork is a useful garden tool.

I brushed back some weeds and exposed the soil underneath, and then shoved with my fork to push the roots up out of the ground.

Levering up some weeds

Levering up some weeds

Sometimes I used the fork face up, and sometimes face down.

Fork used face down to pull weeds

Face down is slightly easier, I think

I also used the fork to scrape away at the surface: this made it like a mini-rake and meant I could spot where the main weed stems were, much more quickly then normal. I also ended up with way less dirt under my fingernails. Yay!

It wasn’t long before my garlic plants were liberated:

No more weeds in the garlic patch

Nice and neat

Later in the afternoon, I went out to feed those weeds to the chickens, and I discovered some cheeky cockatoos in the yard.

Cheeky cockatoos sitting on garden structures

Bold as brass, this lot

I also ran out of onions in my pantry and needed one for a recipe, so I hunted about in the broad beans bed, and found this guy:

Well formed leek

Now that’s a good bit of leek!

That’s the best leek we’ve ever grown! It made a highly delicious lentil burger patty, let me tell you.

Leeks (and alliums) aren’t supposed to do well in the same garden bed with the legume family (broad beans included). I don’t think it affected this leek very much!

Flooded overflow

Big. Wet. Garden.

The other day I mentioned that we built our raised garden beds to counteract the periodic flooding we experience.

Well, here is a good example!

Flooded lawn and play equipment

This part of our lawn floods when it rains heavily.

This water will sit here for about a week, slowly dissipating (if it stops raining, that is!). If we had put our vegetables directly into the ground, here, we would have soggy dead plants inside of lovely fresh veg. Raising up the garden bed allows the water to drain away, but also stops the long vegetable roots from becoming waterlogged when the rest of the ground is a bog.

The concrete garden edge was apparently installed as a “spreader” to collect the rainwater run-off from our very long, steep, driveway. It stops the water from pouring over the edge of the rocks into the bush in just one place. If that were allowed to happen, we would get erosion at the low point, and the water would cut away at the rock, and flow too fast over the edge.

And so, periodically, there are ponds in our lawn.

Flooded grate at the bottom of our driveway drain

This grate sits at the bottom of a very long driveway drainage pipe.

At the top of the lawn there is an overflow grate from the driveway drainage pipe. It allows excess water to wash out over the lawn. Underneath our lawn there is a large reservoir (not a water collection tank, although that would have been cool!). The reservoir has filled up and the overflow is doing its job.

Pools of water in the dirt floor of the chicken coop

The chicken coop floor looks like slurry!

Inside the chicken coop, where we don’t have grass to stabilise the ground, things are looking pretty slushy. Poor chooks – there are ponds inside the coop!

Chickens scratching for scraps and grain in the orchard

The chickens are making the best of a bad lot.

So I’ve temporarily moved their grain dispenser and put their morning scraps outside, to give them a chance to scratch at the ground, rather than just wallow like a pig!

At least, until that darn brush turkey comes along, drat him. *shakes fist*

Eucalyptus Oil

Removing stickers painlessly

Hey everyone!

Last time my kids went to preschool, they were honouring Daffodil Day — promoting awareness about cancer, and asking for a small donation. William got a real kick out of getting his Daffodil Day sticker, so he was totally unimpressed when it turned out that I had thoughtlessly washed it from his red jumper:

Sticker stain on red jacket

The sticker paper washed away, leaving behind the gummy residue. Oops!

This mark was very gummy to touch, a bit like a rubber glove crossed with a sticky toffee. Not going to just rub off with my fingertips!

I immediately turned, as I always do in moments like these, to Eucalyptus Oil:

100% pure eucalyptus oil

I use 100% pure, not the diluted stuff.

This stuff is magic for removing stickers and labels from pretty much anything I’ve tried it on! Mostly I use it for getting the remnants of labels from glass bottles, but I’ve had success with fabric too.

Just take a cleaning cloth and dab on some Eucalytpus oil. Rub away at the area, and in moments …

Sticker partially cleaned away

Almost there …

… the muck just comes clean away!

It doesn’t even really wet the area, but it does make a very (nice!) strong smell. Moments later, I had cleaned off the sticky mess, leaving me with a clean jacket ready to wear.

Clean jacket

All clean again!

The smell dissipated over about half an hour and Will didn’t notice anything amiss when he put in on this morning.

I also use a few drops of Eucalyptus Oil in the fabric softener slot in my washing machine, for loads I want to freshen up (eg. nappies, towels and linens). I’ve never had a problem with it changing colours on fabrics, but if you are concerned, test the inside of your garment first! This time I noticed some faint redness on my working cloth:

Faint red smudge on the cleaning cloth

Faint red smudge on my cleaning cloth

It may be that the colour came off the metal press-stud, or it may have come off the fabric. I didn’t notice any difference in colour on the jacket, but use caution for a special garment. :)

Easy peasy, pudding pie!

Kookaburra snacking

Birds in the bush

Despite the dry weather recently, we have had a remarkable amount of wildlife visiting our garden in recent months.

Our most frequent and obvious visitor is a Brush Turkey who comes over our neighbour’s fence, into our orchard:

Brush Turkey

The brush turkey: find him below the glowing dak pot (organic fruit fly control)

Here he is, hiding at the back of the orchard, where I chased him for a photo. He’s a menace – he gets into the chicken coop and eats the food and scraps in there. Then, about midday he gets randy, and chases my chickens all around the orchard, trying to land on the back of them. O_o

This behaviour means that my poor chickens spend much of their time closed up in their coop, because they really hate this treatment, and I don’t want the turkey to keep coming back. Nothing seems to deter him, though. We will have to put the roof onto our orchard to keep him out once and for all!

Another visitor I spotted the other day is a nectar bird that comes in to sip from the Grevillea growing inside the chicken coop:

Bird flying crazily in the coop

I surprised this bird into crazy flight when I came in at the coop door.

This one visits much less frequently. They are hard to spot when they are sipping at the grevillea flowers, and it’s not until you startle them by coming near the coop that you even realise they are there!

Meanwhile, outside in the garden we often see kookaburras hunting in our yard:

A kookaburra perching on a rock in our yard.

A kookaburra fluffs its plumage after catching a meal in our garden.

This one was perched for several minutes on our lawn rock. Mostly they stop on top of the trellises where they get a great view of the garden. They wait and look at you out of side of their faces, then they swoop down to catch something tasty! Then they hop back up onto their perch and chill for a bit. :)

The chickens don’t mind the small birds visiting them. In fact, they are pretty relaxed birds in general. They are now ALL laying, although it was hard to tell that Cricket had started because her eggs are very similar to Raven’s:

Fresh laid chicken eggs from all four chooks

L to R: Matilda, Raven, Cricket, Harriet

Matilda’s eggs are distinctly whiter than the other eggs. And Harriet’s eggs are clearly different, being speckled and much darker brown. But until Cricket and Raven *both* laid an egg on the same day, I was not a hundred percent sure she had started laying.

I am now, though!

Chicken eggs often get bigger as a chicken gets older, so it’s possible that I’m mixing up Cricket’s egg with Raven’s. But the shorter egg is much the same as Raven laid last season, and the taller egg is much bigger … so I’m sticking with my guess for now. :)

By the by, I’ve finally settled on a good storage container for our fresh eggs: This is a wire basket from Ikea that I’ve lined with a tea towel. Ultimately I’d like to put it up on the wall instead of resting on the counter, but for now, it does fine.

If you collect your eggs straight from your hen (or buy them “farm fresh”) then you can store them out of the refrigerator for weeks. I turn them a little when I add new eggs, putting new ones in at the right hand side, and taking eggs from the left to eat.

Storing them this way means I’m always eating the oldest eggs first, and they aren’t sitting in ugly cardboard egg boxes on our counters. If the basket gets too full and I can no longer rotate the eggs, it’s time to give some away!

Do you have a favourite way to store your eggs?

The winter garden

I have been taking photographs and composing blog posts in my head, but somehow, not making it to my keyboard to actually type these things up! Bad blogger, no biscuit for you!

So, here’s a bunch of garden pictures from mid winter to mildly amuse you. A little background to these shots — it has been incredibly dry here these last couple of months. I think we may have had about 5 mm of rainfall in that time, it’s pathetic. I mentioned a long while ago now that the dirt floor of the chook run was looking very dusty — no rain of note since then.  These photos were taken during that dry patch, and the garden is looking a little withered, and the chook run is hard and compacted.

This last week, however, the heavens have opened up and given us a dose of classic Sydney rain: sideways-in-the-face. Thanks, Sydney! This has caused the usual flooded back yard, and is the reason why we have raised garden beds. I didn’t have a chance to snap a picture of the flooding yet — it was brief this time and the ground soaked it up like a sponge.

So, without further ado, some pictures!